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Ronkonkoma Hub: Exaggerations and Evictions

The Ronkonkoma Hub is open (at least, part of it) and it looks great! Usually, I would be all for a project like this. It checks many boxes:

  • Transit Oriented Development
  • Above Average Rental Amenities
  • Mixed Use Buildings Planned
  • Higher Density Development
  • State Economic Development Funding

While I really want to support this redevelopment project, I’m starting to believe that much of the press coming out in support of the project is being stewarded by NY State’s Economic Development Corporation. All of which has completely ignored the community’s distaste for the project. Moreover, the rental company managing the property, Bozzuto, is deeply exaggerating qualities of the property.

Here’s a quote from Alston’s (the name of the residences) website: “Imagine stepping out your door to enjoy Pindar wines and Briermere pies, a Lobster Roll lunch with a Crooked Ladder brew. That’s a taste of what’s to come at Station Square.”

Google Maps directions from the Alston Apartments to the three featured places to visit.

Well, they’re not technically lying because they didn’t say how many steps you would be taking but it’s a 30-minute drive to Crooked Ladder, 35-minute drive to Briermere and a 50-minute drive to Pindar.

What’s most annoying about this is not the blatant exaggeration but the fact that you need a car to go to most of these places. To visit Crooked Ladder and the rest of Riverhead’s downtown, you could foreseeably take a train from Ronkonkoma for almost the same price and time as going to Manhattan on any of the THREE daily trains out there. Transit oriented developments are supposed to be pedestrian friendly – and that’s just what they claim on their website!

“All in an exciting, walkable community alive with possibilities.”

Other than going to the city by train, you’re pretty much out of luck if you want to enjoy much other than a good slice of pizza at Slices and Ices and a cut at Mica D’s barber shop. But it gets worse!

Those stores are in danger of being forced out too in a future phase of the redevelopment. What services are Tritec or the State going to offer to help these businesses relocate? Will they be able to afford to relocate to one of the new mixed-use shops in Alston Square? Probably not…

Here’s another quote from their website: “The Village Green and pocket parks of Station Square are surrounded by state and local parks in every direction.”

A view of all State, County, Town owned parcels near the Ronkonkoma Hub (excluding MacArthur Airport which is under “Airport Inn Inc”). Source: Suffolk County GIS Portal.

WHERE are these parks? The only significant piece of woodland/open space nearby is absolutely threatened to be cleared for this very development project! The other small wooded pieces are either sumps or land that is owned by the county that is not open to the public.

They could be talking about the Lake Ronkonkoma beach (which you can’t swim at), Lily Pond County Park, Commerdinger County Park, Lakeland County Park or Connetquot River State Park but none of these public parks are contiguous with the project nor are they easily walkable. In their defense, you could feasibly walk to Lake Ronkonkoma in a half hour.

“Lake Ronkonkoma is being restored to become a beautiful gathering place for the whole community”

Really?! I would love to know of these plans to restore the (Original) downtown. Currently, one of its largest anchor institutions just closed (King Kullen), it has lost its local pharmacy (Slater), hardware store (Agnew & Taylor) and many other stores are just plain ole empty. So far, the only downtown revitalization money coming into Ronkonkoma from the State is going straight to the Ronkonkoma Hub! None of it is going toward making the true downtown a more vibrant place.  The good news is that there is existing sidewalk 95% of the way to the downtown.

“Alston is minutes away from MacArthur Airport, across the street from the Ronkonkoma Station on the LIRR, and just off the Long Island Expressway.”

Finally! Some truth! However, do realize that this means you will constantly hear the sounds of speeding cars on the LIE, planes landing and taking off and train horns going off at obscure hours for much longer than needed.

You can get all this for $2,300/month! Who’s in?

Even worse than the laughable lies on their website, the company, and the state, have forcibly pushed out many businesses without any support for where they relocate to. Landowners are being offered “fair market value” and are being told to take it or leave it. Worse, renters have no financial support to cover any costs associated with relocation.

Much of the initial press labelled these businesses as “blighted” while, in reality, they probably employed more people in the long term than these apartments ever could. Here’s a list of the businesses that I could find that have been kicked out:

  • Krav Maga
  • Keen’s Machine Repair
  • Allegiance Engine
  • United Fence & Guard Rail Corp.
  • Pro-Cise Auto Collision
  • A-1 Car Care
  • Accurate Auto Shop Inc
  • World Gym
  • Islandwide Transportation
  • AAA Lawn Mower Service Company
  • Spring and Wheel Alignment Inc.
  • Sno-Wax Plows and Spreaders
  • Tom’s Tires and Auto Service

I’m sure there’s others but you get the point. Many more businesses will sadly be added to this list as the project continues to force landowners and renters to divest themselves from Ronkonkoma.

A view of the properties that have already been acquired for the Ronkonkoma Hub. Source: Suffolk County GIS Portal.

While there’s little that can be done for those businesses that were already forced out, Tritec and the State owe it to the remaining business owners (whether they own the building or not) to provide relocation support services such as reimbursing realty fees, moving costs, marketing related to location changes and other costs that are being burdened to long standing community members.

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Long Island Sand Mining Threatening Aquifers

This post is the first of a series I’m calling “Long Island From Above”

Looking over Long Island on Google Maps, you might notice a few large turquoise colored bodies of water. Zoom in and you’ll find man made landscapes like this 55 acre pool of water in the middle of a residential neighborhood. What’s it doing there?

 

While you won’t find a public beach or park along these shores, you will find established sand mining businesses that have grown over the last 40+ years to own some of the largest man made bodies of water on Long Island. But where did all that water come from?

Over the years, Ranco, Roanoke and Coram Materials mined their sandy parcels, all located within the porous pine barrens compatible growth area, to the point where they were digging below the water table. This created what’s known as a Sandpit Lake, made up of what should’ve been fresh drinking water. If you’ve ever dug a hole at the beach and hit water, you’ve created a miniature version of this enormous pit.

Take a look at how their mining operations have expanded over the years (images from the Suffolk County GIS portal)

Ranco: 55 Acre Pool

Roanoke: 117 Acre Pool (Notice the bus company headquartered right in the middle of the sand pit)

Coram Materials: 54 Acre Pool (Notice the subdivided lots they own)

While it’s certainly unique, you have to wonder how much impact these sand mining operations have on our drinking water in one of the most porous soil districts of Long Island.

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The Gramercy Park Piss Problem

Having gone to college at Baruch, I often found myself taking walks around Gramercy Park between classes. While it’s a nice view and some good exercise, I’ve always had to dodge the seemingly everlasting dog pee spots found on the sidewalk outside the park. Twice now, (Link, Link) residents have posted anonymous pamphlets around the park claiming they know who is leaving dog poop around their lovely park yet they’ve never mentioned the pee problem. So, I decided to walk around the perimeter of the park (since I obviously couldn’t walk inside it) to see for my self how many distinctively identifiable dog pee spots were on the sidewalk. Here are my findings:

I don’t know if you counted, but that was about sixty (60!) pee spots! While everyone knows NYC at large is disgusting, this is a very “well to do” neighborhood that could easily afford to hire someone to wash off the sidewalks every day, put dog poop bag dispensers around the park or, better yet, allow some of the rich neighborhood dogs and their walkers inside the park to pee in a designated dog park – the park would get infinitely more used and perhaps people could meet fellow neighbors there. Of course, that’ll never happen.

What will happen is a constant flow (fitting word) of dogs excreting around the park. Most dog poop is cleaned. Pee is the real issue here and one that the entire city faces. For Gramercy Park, since the slate sidewalk seems to hold liquid more than other kinds of pavement, perhaps residents with dogs should start bringing a bottle of water to dump after their dogs pee to wash it away. As summer approaches, I kind of wish that all NYC dog owners start practicing this habit too.

Corkor Belt Durability Issues

In a quest to stop using leather products, I came across the company Corkor. They sell really good looking cork belts, wallets and bags. I quickly ordered two belts and a wallet (Which, while not the topic of this post, is holding up really well over the last two months.)

While good looking, the problem with their belts is that they wear/crack almost instantly around the holes. I had only worn the black belt for a few days by the time I took the above pictures and contacted the company.

They replied that it was only “…The normal wear of the cork fabric. The interlining material will not let it rip or damage any further.” They replied as if it were intended to crack like this despite what it says on their own website “It won’t crack or crumble, in fact, the quality and suppleness of cork fabric products can be compared to that of leather goods.”

Eventually, though I was scared of damaging the brown belt , I decided to wear it for the first time yesterday. Take a look at the photos from one day of use. I’m pretty frustrated to say the least…

Here’s a couple pictures of the black (more often worn) belt that’s just two month’s old:

And in case anyone’s interested in the wallet, here’s a couple pictures of that:

Honestly, I’m just going to keep wearing these belts until they break but I certainly can’t wear them anywhere nice. Hopefully the company makes better belts in the future because I do like their style and their prices were cheaper than other cork belt companies that I came across.

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How To Split and Convert 3.5mm Video Feed into RCA.

This might not be my most popular post but I haven’t found anything that demonstrates the possibility of doing this – especially with a dashcam/aftermarket head unit in a car. Hopefully it’s helpful to someone!

The issue I had was that I already wired up a reverse camera (3.5mm) to my Rexing V1P dashcam and my new Sony XAV-AX100 headunit had an (RCA) input for a reverse camera. I didn’t want to have two cameras off the back of my car so I attempted to split the feed.

As you can see in the photo above, the 3.5mm aux cord comes from the camera (to the right) and a female 3.5mm aux to male RCA converts the digital feed to analog. Then, I used an RCA coupler to connect the white RCAs and a female RCA (yellow) to the red. The female RCA wires are then stripped and split so that one can return to the head unit and the other can complete the circuit to the dashcam (another aux to RCA cord).

I have no idea how this works but I was also able to make this work with a headphone splitter. One headphone split side went right back to the camera and the other converted to RCA and one of the two RCAs worked as the video feed. So, this might end up being a trial and error kind of thing for you but just know that it IS possible to split a digital camera feed to RCA!

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Waze Custom Voices Database

(I recovered 98% of the spreadsheet! I had accidentally deleted the google docs folder where the spreadsheet was located and thought I lost everything but luckily, I originally pasted the spreadsheet into WordPress and thankfully, it saves your edits!)

Waze recently released its custom voice feature, allowing anyone to record their own voices to use for their GPS. The best part? They’re shareable! Searching for the perfect voice, I went through every Waze voice I could find (there were 45 at the time of posting) and rated them on how funny they were, how long you could realistically listen to the voice, and how good the audio quality was.

Here’s a great example of a custom Waze voice made by Drew Lynch. There are a few other videos you can check out that I included in the spreadsheet:

Then, I summarized my comments about the unique features of each voice and provided the link to download the voice yourself. The voices are sorted by overall review score. Remember that my scores and summaries are my personal thoughts – You might absolutely love the voice I scored the lowest!

Have you recorded a Waze voice that you’d like to add to the database? Leave a comment below with the link to the voice and I’ll give it a review and post it here!

On a related note… Does anyone know someone with an excessively Italian accent that would be willing to yell at me to turn left? “Turn left, ya stonad!”

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Kimco Continues to Transform its Properties & its Portfolio Toward its 2020 Vision

In a timely decision to reinvest in the United States, Kimco completed its divestment from Canada and Mexico to focus solely on its US assets. The goal, as described in its long term strategy plan, is to create “high-quality” properties located primarily in major metro areas. As shown, Kimco completed it’s strategic four year exit from other countries as of this quarter.

Charts: Kimco’s divestment from other countries, which accelerated starting in 2013, has just been completed this quarter. Though GLA (gross leasable area) has decreased, Kimco’s goal is to manage only “high quality” properties with low vacancies and high density regions.

 

Shedding its foreign properties allows the company to avoid currency fluctuations, foreign political turmoil, allocate management to key metro areas and avoid any new taxes/tariffs put in place by the new administration. “We applaud steps KIM is taking to simplify its business model” said S&P analyst C. Seifert, who was impressed with Kimco’s efforts to reduce its exposure to certain overseas markets and joint ventures.

While the company’s ambitions are clear, the it still faces many challenges during its transformation. First, the company must carefully redistribute the funds from the sale of its final foreign assets. Closing out 2016, the company sold off its final three properties in Mexico, one in Chile and 27 in Canada, generating $417 million for the company. However, for the year, sales of 34 Canadian centers have grossed the company nearly $895 million.

One of the properties Kimco recently sold, Galerias Rio Sonora in Mexico, perfectly demonstrates why the company made an exit from foreign properties. Viewing the property from street view, it becomes clear that the property, though impressive in scale and luxury, is not surrounded by the high income suburban density that Kimco’s 2020 plan describes. Additionally, the elevated security posts in the parking lot are staffed, unlike many in America which are only present for perceived security, suggesting higher crime levels. Continuing up the road, vacant buildings dot the largely undeveloped landscape.

 

Kimco  will allocate the proceeds from the sales of each property toward acquiring high quality properties, choosing sites in prime locations for mixed-use development and revitalizing aging properties. Kimco does, however, already lease a small number of offices, usually situated above conventional retail outlets but these properties were always ones they acquired rather than built from the ground up. This is the first time the company will, from the ground up, enter the residential and commercial office markets. 

Image: Kimco has already secured between 13 and 79 percent of leases for their development properties despite estimated completion dates reaching into 2021. This validates the company’s interest in the retail market despite growing sector turmoil. However, in the same image, the company acknowledges the shift toward providing residential and commercial office space in order to create desirable consumer spaces. (Source: Kimco First Quarter 2017 Supplemental)

 

Kimco is now developing residential towers, office buildings and entertainment centers in addition to its retail centers.  Above, Kimco outlines its estimated costs for ground up development, costing upwards of $674 million to develop six properties. By developing these properties, Kimco expects to add 2.5 million square feet of leasable area, 235,000 sq. ft. of which will be residential. Kimco is banking on the idea that people will live in company owned apartments, purchase most of their products in company leased retail stores and potentially work in company leased offices.

 

This is more commonly known as the “Live, Work & Play Environment,” as stated on the company website. With 72 percent of the company’s annual base rent sourced from shopping centers that already have grocery store anchors, Kimco sees an opportunity to revitalize its centers to reflect this holistic approach of consumerism.

 

Reflecting upon Kimco’s 2020 Vision strategy, analyst Edward Mui from Morningstar notes that, “The simpler, quality-focused strategy will better support long-term demand and decrease risk for the company’s portfolio, ultimately benefiting investors.” He continues to explain that in the near term, the company’s large developments and frequent disposal and acquisition of properties will lead to balance sheets that might appear to be worrisome to investors who are not aware of the company’s plan.

 

Kimco planned five sites for development and five sites for revitalization. In recent years, Kimco completed the redevelopment of 13 sites. All the sites, as stated on the plan, are in major metropolitan areas such as Houston, Baltimore and New York City.

 

One of the more challenging tasks the company faces is selecting properties to acquire and dispose of. While it’s easy to look at current lease revenue and tenant occupancy, it’s extremely complicated to estimate the return on a property given the investment to redevelop the space. Kimco owns two properties that perfectly demonstrate this dilemma.
 

Jericho Atrium, a moderately sized office complex located on Long Island, does not fit the company’s vision of “high-quality” mixed use retail space. However, it is well leased and has a large parking lot for potential future development.

 

Another property on Long Island, recently acquired by Kimco, is the Milleridge Inn. The property features a restaurant, catering hall and a small “colonial” village that includes a number of boutique shops. As a property that carries historic designation, Kimco is extremely limited in its redevelopment but it explored building a hotel or an assisted living community on the property.

Dania Pointe, the company’s most extensive project thus far, is located in the Fort Lauderdale metro area. There, Kimco is building a massive mixed use development on the site of an old wooden roller coaster park. It will build 1,100 residential units, two hotels 750,000 square feet of office space and nearly one billion square feet of retail and restaurant space. The space is adjacent to a property Kimco already owns, making it the company’s largest presence in a single community in the country.

 

 

Though it sold close to a billion dollars in real estate this year, the company has just $140 million of cash on hand. The company’s biggest challenge will be to make sure it has sufficient funding for all its projects in addition to all its current liabilities. Luckily for Kimco, the company has just entered into a revolving credit agreement for $2.25 billion from 19 major financial institutions.

 

Investors, thus far, have not been convinced that the strategic plan will succeed. Shares dropped to another 52-week low this week despite the company posting in-line earnings per share. Valueline analyst Frederick L. Harris commented that, “We attribute that price move, to a certain degree, to less-than-ideal business conditions in the retail store industry.” Harris continued, arguing that the company now has effectively no foreign exposure but, “We like this strategy, since business prospects there don’t seem to be as decent as in the United States.”

Shares dropped to another 52-week low this week despite the company posting in-line earnings per share. 

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The Suffolk County Bus System Could Be So Much More

Long Islanders love their cars. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, of the 2.8 million people (1.3 million workers) living on Long Island, just 11% of them use public transit (bus + rail) to get to work. A whopping 74% of workers drive alone.

While train ridership is generally more widely used, bus ridership on Long Island has always struggled. In total, just 4% of Long Islanders ride the bus daily (Ridership: Suffolk – 22,000, Nassau – 95,000).

So why do so few people take the bus?

There’s two leading theories when it comes to bus systems: Coverage and Frequency. Suffolk County’s bus system enjoys neither. Busses typically run every hour, though, limited busses arrive 45 minutes apart. That’s fine so long as the system covers a large part of the island.

To determine the coverage of the SCT Bus + LIRR, I opened the the system map in Illustrator and changed the route values to be about a quarter mile wide (a commonly used measurement to determine walkability). I then used an image color summarizer to calculate the percent of the image that was red vs green. According to the resulting image, people living in just 28% of the county have easy access to public transit. People living in the remaining 78% would have to walk further than a quarter mile or drive to access public transit.

Worse, Suffolk Transit just cut 8 routes due to infrequent use. In 2016, 31% of the island had easy access to transit. Now, just 28% has easy access. You can see the differences if you use the slider above. I would have no issue with this if they increased the frequency of other bus routes after this change but that is not the case.

I realize many of these areas of Long Island are not densely populated. To get a better picture, I chose the town of Babylon (Suffolk’s densest downtown) to compare to a city I consider to have fantastic public transit: Ithaca, NY.

Babylon Township, NY:

Bus/Rail Within A Quarter Mile: 46%

Area Beyond A Quarter Mile From Transit: 54%

Ithaca Quarter Mile

City of Ithaca, NY:

Bus Lines Within A Quarter Mile: 45%

Area Beyond A Quarter Mile From Transit: 55%

The resulting images show that the coverage of the two downtown areas are nearly identical. However, the usability/experience of the systems are immensely different. To start, every single route in the Babylon area runs 45 min or worse. The TCAT, Ithaca’s bus company, has headways from every 5 minutes to every hour downtown (with certain rural commuter routes – not shown – running every two hours). Given that frequency, the TCAT’s is able to get a daily ridership of 15,000 people with a population of 103,000 people. This means that 14.5% of the Tompkins County (much of it rural) rides the TCAT while only 4% of Long Islanders ride the bus.

I’m not the only one who has taken notice of Ithaca’s devotion to a good transit system. An study published in Science Direct titled Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice wrote that providing an oversupply of transit in Ithaca, along with in New York City, has helped create a larger demand for transit.

I have personally spent a lot of time in Ithaca over the past 4 years and I absolutely adore their transit system. Like the study concluded, I attribute much of its success to the collaboration with the college campuses, low fare and frequency of service. I could only wish that the Suffolk County Transit would take note.

Next, take a look at the below image, taken from the Regional Plan Association, which shows the coverage of local bus lines in NYC:

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An incredible 97% of the city is can walk less than a quarter mile to access busses. When you add in rail, subway, express busses, ferries and the short headways seen in NYC, it’s no wonder why car ownership is below 50%.

Back on Long Island, I strongly believe it would be best for the Suffolk Transit to switch from a coverage system to a frequency system.

Currently, if I tried taking the bus between my parent’s homes, it would take an hour and 40 minutes for a 20 minute drive (excluding the o.8 mile walk from my mom’s house and the 2 mile walk to my dad’s house). Since the busses run an hour apart as is, I would only have limited times when I could make the trip. Even if I wanted to take the bus to the LIRR, it would take 15 minutes to get to the train station (no big deal) but since the two systems are no longer connected, it would perfectly miss the train by 10 minutes (forcing me to wait an additional 50 minutes for the next one).

Why bother? The busses would be much better used if they had short headways and if they were situated through downtowns to connect residents to stores, train stations and their jobs. Additionally, having busses devoted to downtowns would create larger demand at all hours of the day, not just morning/evening commutes to/from work.

For the few people who need public transit services in less dense areas, they can make use of an on demand service system. Ithaca has one of those systems and it’s the same fare for anyone who needs it outside the downtown zone. Suffolk has this as well but the fare is nearly double the cost of a normal fare and it is only for disabled persons.

In the end, I’m positive that no advocate of planning/economic development would be against what I’m suggesting here. It all comes down to how the community perceives it: Will it save them tax money and will it create more traffic in towns? Those are unfortunately questions I cannot answer. It’s up to the community to demand more routes/better frequency.

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1967: The Building of 4 New York Plaza

I was recently scanning some family photos when I came across a fantastically lined up pair of images that depict the before/during construction images of 4 New York Plaza being built in 1967. The photos were taken from my grandmother’s workplace at 40 Wall St.

After some color adjustments, here they are: (click and drag the arrows to see the differences).

I then tried to line up the images to today’s Google Earth imagery. The height is off but you get the idea. There’s obviously been a lot of building since.